Auto insurance ranked by problems

The New York State Department of Insurance has released its annual ranking of automobile insurance complaints for 2007, with MetLife as the only one of the 10 largest insurers in the state to also be among those with the fewest complaints.

MetLife and affiliated companies came in 10th on the complaint list, with 107 complaints closed and only 14 upheld by regulators. The company took in an annual average of $267.5 million in auto insurance premiums in New York State during that time, making it the 10th largest in the state.

Also highly ranked was New York Central Mutual Insurance Co., at 13th, with 249 complaints closed and 21 upheld. The company is the 9th largest carrier in the state, with $299 million in annual premiums and 3 percent of the market.

Merchants Mutual Insurance Co. of Buffalo was 12th, with one complaint upheld out of 14. The regional carrier collected $17.5 million in premiums.

“The ranking is a valuable tool consumers can use to evalute the performance of their insurance company,” Insurance Superintendent Eric R. Dinallo said in a statement. “The market is currently quite competitive and right now might be a good time to price compare.”

The report, which examines 44 companies operating in New York State, measures the number of complaints upheld against each insurer or group of companies as a percent of their average auto insurance premiums.

The ranking, available online at, is compiled using 2005 and 2006 premium data, accounting for the fact that some complaints closed in a particular year may have been filed the previous year. Complaints filed directly with insurers are not included. According to the ranking, 7,914 complaints were filed against auto insurance companies or groups of companies in the state. Of those, 1,629 were upheld in favor of consumers, 4,243 were not upheld, and 2,042 were not counted against insurers because regulators could not determine the facts.

Overall, New Yorkers spent more than $10 billion on private auto insurance in 2006, so one complaint was upheld for every $6.2 million in premiums paid. Typical complaints involved monetary disputes, such as the value of a loss, or non-renewals of policies.

The top three insurers, based on fewest complaints, were American Modern Insurance Group, Atlantic Cos. and Electric Insurance Group. Between them, they had 12 complaints filed, but none upheld. But between them, they also did only $48 million in premium business, making them very small players. They are not related.

At the bottom of the ranking were Long Island Insurance Co., Infinity Property & Casualty Insurance Group and American International Group, with the most complaints upheld relative to their premium volume.

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